Russia’s latest proposal on Syria may be what the United States needs as long as it keeps the pressure on President Bashar Assad.
Russia has seized on Secretary of State John Kerry’s impromptu suggestion that a military strike on Syria could be averted if Assad promptly turned his chemical weapons over to the international community. The Kremlin turned that suggestion into a proposal that reportedly was promptly approved by the Syrian government.
President Obama also said he is in favor of such a development — but only if it is real.
In order to make sure it is real, he needs leverage over Assad, namely the authorization by Congress for use of military force. And he needs it sooner rather than later so that Assad fears the strike and cooperates with international monitors.
Such authorization would leave Assad in no doubt that a strike may come any moment, prodding him to play along.
To be sure, Assad would have to guarantee the security of the international community representatives who would be taking control of those stockpiles — a tall order, given the civil war in Syria.
Moreover, the decision to give up his chemical weapons must be tough for Assad to commit to after Moammar Gadhafi’s decision to renounce Libya’s chemical weapons stockpile in 2004 failed to prevent his overthrow seven years later.
But that’s exactly why the pressure the United States exerts on Assad is great.
The Russian proposal has so far achieved only one thing — delayed the vote on the use of military force by the U.S. Senate. That was a welcome outcome for Assad and the Kremlin, a staunch ally of Syria that has given uninterrupted economic and military help to the Assad regime, notably sending its navy to the region.
Absent a move for military force, Assad is bound to use the chaos of a civil war as an excuse to stall for as long as he needs to sabotage the proposal. And it will be extremely hard to verify the presence or absence of chemical weapons under his control, as witnessed by the weapons of mass destruction intelligence fiasco in Iraq that resulted in the second war there and cost thousands of American lives.
On Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reportedly told his French counterpart that Russia would propose a United Nations draft declaration supporting Moscow’s initiative to bring Syria’s chemical weapons under international control. At the same time, Russia is against a U.N. Security Council resolution that would hold the Syrian government responsible for the use of chemical weapons, with the Kremlin-controlled media blaming the insurgents for the incident.
Meant to undermine support for a military strike on Syria, the Russian proposal could help keep the United States from getting dragged into another war in the Middle East -- but ironically, only if Congress promptly authorizes such a strike.
Mike Sigov, a former Russian journalist in Moscow, is a U.S. citizen and a staff writer for The Blade.